Nursery found 'grossly negligent' by inquest into child death

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The Dicky Birds nursery in Wimbledon where Tiya Chauhan died has been found to be ‘grossly negligent’.

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Tiya Chauhan died after choking on a raw jelly cube at Dicky Birds nursery in Wimbledon Photo: National Pictures

Twenty-two month-old Tiya died after choking on a raw jelly cube during a free flow play session at the nursery in August 2012.

The jury’s verdict at the inquest, which concluded yesterday, found that that there was a gross failure on the part of the nursery to provide appropriate care to Tiya.

On the day of the incident there were 11 members of staff supervising 30 children aged up to four years old, Westminster Coroner’s Court heard.

Coroner Fiona Wilcox said, ‘The jury concluded there was a gross failure on the part of the nursery to provide appropriate care for Tiya.

‘There was inadequate communication between all staff, which was a gross failure.

‘There was a significant failure to carry out adequate risk assessments relating to the jelly cube.

'The jury has ruled her death was accidental contributed to by neglect.’

The inquest heard that staff at the nursery initially blamed ‘an unknown medical condition’ for Tiya’s death.

Jurors were told that by the time police had arrived at the nursery the scene ‘had been cleaned and some things moved’.

The jelly cubes in question had also been lost or thrown away, ‘by a person or persons unknown’, the coroner said.

The jury heard that a London Ambulance crew had removed a ‘jelly-like substance’ from Tiya’s airway. She was taken to hospital but died later the same day.

The inquest heard that no adult saw Tiya take the jelly from the table, put it in her mouth or saw or heard her choke.

The inquest had also previously heard claims the nursery operations manager Derek Hayes ‘deliberately minimised’ the incident in his formal report to Ofsted and put down inaccurate information on the number of staff who were present at the time.

Oftsed had ordered the nursery to close for six weeks but allowed it to re-open on the condition that there was no free flow play and no jelly in play or on the menu.

Mr Hayes admitted that he suspended a nursery nurse, Natasha Collins, at random to appease inspectors.

Dr Wilcox told the jury that he had stated that there was no logic for suspending her.

But Mr Hayes ‘specifically denied there had been a management cover-up of this incident,’ Dr Wilcox said.

A spokesperson for Dicky Birds nursery said, 'The management team acted with the best intentions in what was a tragic and difficult time for all involved. The local authority agreed during the hearing that they had no precedent for handling serious incidents of this nature and have since updated their own reporting procedures and requirements. The coroner did not produce any findings regarding the conduct of Mr Hayes and he continues in his role.'

In a statement Tiya Chauhan's father Dipa Chauhan said,  ‘Nothing we can say or do can bring back our beautiful daughter Tiya nor relieve the pain of not seeing our little bundle of joy grow up with our family.

‘All our hopes and dreams for Tiya have been taken from us.

‘This hearing, although hard to bear, has helped us and we are grateful to the coroner for conducting a thorough inquest.

‘This has provided us with an opportunity to better understand the circumstances in which Tiya died.

‘We are extremely disappointed that it has taken an inquest hearing two years after Tiya’s death to identify for the first time the basic failures of the Dicky Birds Nursery to supervise very young children and to operate a free-flow system without assessing the obvious risks of babies being left unattended with access to dangerous items such as raw jelly.

‘The nursery has continued to deny any responsibility or accountability for Tiya’s death in the face of overwhelming evidence and even to this day continue to blame the jelly.

‘The nursery has shown no compassion or remorse and the manner in which the Dicky Birds Nursery has conducted itself has been regrettable and has added considerably to our pain.

‘Our aim has always been to establish the truth of how Tiya died so that other nurseries and governing bodies may learn by the mistakes made here.

Mr Chauhan also said that unanswered questions remained following the inquest.

‘The nursery has continued to deny any responsibility or accountability for Tiya's death in the face of overwhelming evidence and even to this day continue to blame the jelly.

‘We are absolutely disgusted by the behaviour of the nursery, they misled Ofsted by suspending a junior member of staff who had nothing to do with her death.

‘We hope Ofsted and Health and Safety fully investigate the matter.

‘The nursery has shown no compassion or remorse and the manner in which the Dicky Birds Nursery has conducted itself has been regrettable and has added considerably to our pain.

‘Our aim has always been to establish the truth of how Tiya died so that other nurseries and governing bodies may learn by the mistakes made here.

‘We believe the Inquest has gone some way to achieving that.’

Dicky Birds nursery is a private day nursery with other nurseries in Wimbledon, Raynes Park, New Malden and Surbiton in south London.

In a statement Rachel Berry, owner of Dicky Birds Nurseries said, ‘We would like to express our deepest sympathies to Tiya’s family.

'For the last 18 years we have always strived to provide the best possible childcare by exceeding all of the national standards set by Ofsted and other agencies including the quality of our buildings, resources, staff ratios and training.

‘During the hearing the medical expert gave evidence that even a small piece of jelly, in particular, if inhaled, could pose a silent and rapid asphyxiation hazard, from which it is almost impossible to recover. 

‘In 2012, as was nationally accepted best practice, we were operating free flow play at set times in our nursery. The intention of free flow is to create a more fluid environment for children to explore and move between various indoor and outdoor activities. One of these activities was a sensory play table dressed with prehistoric animals in a spaghetti and jelly swamp.

‘At the time we did not appreciate how dangerous jelly play could be.  Immediately after the tragedy, we removed all free flow and food play from our nurseries.’

According to the nursery, the coroner is to publish a preventing future deaths report into raw jelly.

Ms Berry added, ‘Currently, we know that food and jelly play remains prevalent in many nurseries and we welcome that the coroner will be making a report regarding the danger of raw jelly in childcare settings.

‘We remain devastated that the tragedy of this day two years ago cannot be undone and our thoughts remain with Tiya’s family.’

An Ofsted spokesperson said, ‘This is a distressing and tragic case, and our sympathies are with Tiya’s family.

‘Safeguarding of children is paramount in all that Ofsted does, and we will carefully consider this verdict and the implications for Ofsted in the light of any recommendations from the coroner.’